Chris Rock wrote, directed, and starred in the social commentary/standup/ensemble/memoir/satire that is Top Five. You’ll buy or rent this for the cast, and then consider some of the things that Rock is saying about comedy, stardom, and what it means to “keep it real” when the camera is on or off. With turns by Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Tracey Morgan, JB Smoove, and a host of others, the film’s comedy chops are unarguably solid, but no less than by the man, Rock himself. [Seriously, this might be his best since Head of State…] And yet, I’d argue that this is the most serious film Rock has ever made.
Rock’s Andre Allen is widely trashed as a washed-up comic because he’s “settled” for making million-dollar film franchise based on a cop-in-a-bear-suit called Hammy (think Martin Lawrence in Big Momma’s House). He’s about to marry a woman (Gabrielle Union) he feels obligated to but doesn’t love (and who doesn’t love him). She’s doing it for the ratings… and that’s the point. But Rosario Dawson’s Chelsea, the reporter writing a feature on Allen, is the one who asks the questions that ‘peel the onion’ or pull back the curtain on Allen’s life and asks him to be real.
Who loves you for you, regardless of whether or not you’re famous, valuable, or powerful? Ultimately, Top Five tackles our issues with love, relationships, and power, and the tricky blend of all three. Sure, it’s a mostly black ensemble cast using their combined fame to make something funny but there’s something deadly serious going on here that you can’t necessarily find in About Last Night. (But please, where else are you going to find Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfield, Adam Sandler, and Rock sitting side-by-side riffing?) Rock’s narrative takes us through alcoholism, the cost of fame, the abuse of relationships, and leaves us wondering what we think of those we idolize on the other side.
At one point, Union’s femme fatale of sorts tells Allen that he has to kiss her on camera, because “if it’s not on camera, it’s not real.” That’s more than just the zeitgeist of an industry-poking film (a la Birdman, no?) but rather a bigger criticism of our social media frenzy where everything must be documented, tweeted, instagrammed, and recorded for our own glorification. No doubt there is something to be said about the sharing of information, but when are we being really true to ourselves and when are we smiling for the camera? [I’d argue that the onslaught of “reality TV” has engendered the wearing of masks and creating of personas that would make the ancient Greeks blush…]
For a practical, more personal perspective… When you lose everything – when it all falls apart – who has your back? When you get to the moment in your life where you have to decide who you’re going to be for the rest of your life, who helps you make the decision? Yes, Top Five is funny, and the arguments over rappers, comedians, and actors is well-played, but the movie might challenge your worldview, too. rating: borrow it